If the Emperor were ever to run a contest to choose the least sexy place in the universe, Gideon is pretty sure that, by entering the entirety of the Ninth House’s living quarters, she could easily win second place.
The only reason she doesn’t say first place is because one tiny area of the Ninth House, namely her own cell, is gifted with her presence, and that has to count for something.
That being said, after night descends on the planet, casting the central shaft into desolate blackness, her cell turns into a bit of a buzzkill. The room is a mere shade above freezing - every so often, the decrepit heaters embedded in the walls let out a great, gasping wheeze and cough out a feeble rush of heat, but it doesn’t do much to dent the oppressive cold filling the small space. On the other side of the small viewing hole set into the door, there’s not a single glimmer of light, and only occasionally do quiet footsteps break through the silence as devout worshipers return from a late night prayer session, finding their way to their cells by sheer force of will and years of monotonous routine.
She’s happy to have some light, in the form of a candle resting in a bone saucer on the floor beside her bed, but seeing as the candle was rendered from human fat and the Ninth House doesn’t believe in anything as decadent as pleasant smells, the black smoke that streams from the wick is enough to make her wrinkle her nose, even after all these years.
Between the smells and the temperature and the creepy sounds and the dark, it’s not exactly a place Gideon would want to bring someone home to, even supposing that there was anyone on the planet eligible for that honor. But, buzzkill though it may be, on the nights where she wants to fuck herself to sleep, she’s pretty good at ignoring all of the above and powering through until she passes out under her threadbare blanket.
Tonight, however, the room seems to be getting to her.
It’s not that she isn’t horny - the warmth slicking the inside of her thighs and smearing along her fingertips is testament to that - but it seems like, every time she gets close to properly enjoying herself, the environment interrupts her. The heater kicks on with a sound like someone snapping a femur, and she jumps, momentarily convinced that Harrowhark is standing outside her door, announcing her presence in the only way she knows how. Once she’s over that fright, she starts again, using her free hand to flip to another page in Curvy Captains of the Cohort, but she’s barely found a good rhythm when a muscle on the inside of her thigh starts twitching rapidly, and not in a good way. With a frustrated curse, she puts the magazine down so she can slap the misbehaving muscle, and while the twitch calms down, the interruption is enough to make her huff a breath out of her mouth.
Before she can turn to another page, she’s interrupted once again by the sound of creaking metal and labored footsteps on the other side of the door. With that much metal, there’s only one person it can be and, rolling out of bed, wiping her hand on her leg, and tugging her breeches up, she drops to the floor of her cell, nearly singeing her heel on the disgusting candle in the process, and starts doing press-ups, never mind the fact that she’s already cranked out over two hundred today and is feeling it in her triceps. Once the sound of the creaking metal reaches its zenith, she shifts her weight to her left hand, raises the middle finger of her right hand in the direction of the viewing port inset in her door, and keeps going, arm wobbling slightly as she lowers back towards the ground.
On the other side of her door, she hears what could be an old man gasping but what sounds suspiciously like an outright hiss.
“You’re a disgrace to this House, Nav.” Crux’s words float in from the hallway, and Gideon turns her middle finger salute into a waggling wave.
“Sweet dreams to you too, Crux.” After another hiss, Crux’s footsteps and creaking armor pick up again, and Gideon drops her hand back down to the floor. Only when all signs of the marshal have faded away does she lower herself completely to the ground, stomach resting against the cold stone. The ache in her arms has turned into a dull burn, but she’s pretty sure that she could get through another fifty press-ups on the remnants of Crux’s hate alone.
But while that would probably help her get to sleep, there is another thing that would help her do so and, since Crux’s appearance functioned as a reset button, she’s ready to try again.
She climbs back in bed and, after a moment of debate, flips the cover of Curvy Captains closed. There’s another magazine that she managed to have dropped in a few weeks ago, paid for in coins scrounged up from among various catacomb niches. She hasn’t opened it yet, but if there’s any time to do it, it’s tonight, while she’s flying high on the joy that only comes with pissing off Crux.
Leaning off the edge of the bed and reaching underneath, she fumbles around until her fingers close on the magazine. Once she’s sitting back upright, she tears the plastic off, tosses it to the floor, and turns the magazine around so that she can get a good look at the cover.
It’s even better than she remembered.
Naughty Nuns of the Ninth is blazoned across the top of the cover, and underneath that, two women that don’t look like any nun Gideon has ever seen (mainly due to the healthy glow of their skin, barely hidden beneath the thinnest layer of greasepaint, and their ample curves and the fact they aren’t eighty fucking years old) are locked in a passionate embrace, filmy black robes exposing tremendous amounts of thighs and cleavage. With a laugh, she flips to the first page.
Even if the magazine is too ludicrous for her to use as spank bank material, it might give her a good laugh, and when morning comes, she can initiate the original plan she had in mind when she ordered it: place it somewhere where Harrow is bound to come across it and watch what happens.
The first few pages after the table of contents are plastered with advertisements for other magazines and various products. Unfortunately, while many of the products look interesting, they’re almost entirely outside of Gideon’s price range, and since there’s no point in lamenting the fact that she won’t be able to order a sword that has a dildo instead of a blade, she keeps flipping until she comes to the first feature.
The stars of the feature are the models from the cover page. While the setting is totally wrong (way too bright, not nearly enough dust, and there’s a mere handful of bones, probably fake and thrown in as an afterthought, scattered around the library set), in the first few photos, they could almost pass as respectable members of the Ninth House, if one were to quickly glance at the pictures and then immediately look away. Their robes definitely aren’t standard issue - there aren’t nearly enough layers, and the bright lighting makes it easy for Gideon to pick out the dark nipples on one of the models - but the women are posed so that the thigh slits aren’t immediately apparent. Both of them have veils, but they’re made of translucent netting, and within four pictures, they’ve been tossed to the side, fully exposing the thin layer of paint on each of the model’s faces. It’s obviously been applied by someone who knows something about makeup but nothing about the Ninth House and, as she looks at it, Gideon’s face starts to itch as the phantom weight of thick paint descends upon her skin. Rubbing at her cheek, she flips to the next page.
Any attempt at some kind of coherent plot or scenario has already gone out the window. The first model, who is statuesque with blonde hair tumbling to her shoulders and has large breasts straining against the front of her joke of a robe, is sitting on the edge of a table, leaning back against stacks of books that are far too clean to belong to the Ninth House. Her long fingers are tangled into the black hair of the second model, who is standing between her spread legs, hands clamped on the blonde’s hips. The thigh slits on both are now clearly visible, exposing many inches of skin that has probably seen the sun more times in the last month than Gideon ever has. Aside from some white earrings, which could easily be plastic or painted clay, neither of the models are visibly wearing a single bone.
Absently flicking at her clit and relishing in the slight jolt of arousal that courses through her, Gideon turns the page again, to a full page spread of the raven-haired model going down on the blonde, shot up close so that every detail is illuminated, right up to and including the fact that, somehow, there isn’t a smear of greasepaint on the inside of the blonde’s thighs or smudged in the close cropped curls of her pubic hair.
For some reason, it’s that particular detail that Gideon finds most disconcerting of all.
The photos are hot, sure, but the lack of effort that was put into the shoot is almost offensive, even to a heathen like Gideon. The Ninth House may not be particularly open and welcoming to visitors, but she’s sure that there are some resources out there that could be useful as research materials. Hell, even the addition of a few bones would have made the pictures look a little more like home.
After glancing through the rest of the feature to quell her curiosity, she flicks the magazine closed and haphazardly shoves it back under the bed before she blows the candle out and flops back against her cot. Come morning, she’ll fish it out and shove it into her waistband so that she can conveniently leave it in Harrow’s path, probably in the library, tucked into the pages of some moldering old tome about, what else, bones.
If Harrow were to get off her high horse long enough to go down on someone, she’d probably cover them in paint.
The thought pops unbidden into Gideon’s head, and she immediately recognizes the danger of it. She has no interest in Harrow at all, no interest that doesn’t involve punting her off the top of the mine shaft or clobbering her with a particularly large tibia, but she knows that won’t stop her mind from pursuing the train of thought, if only for the novelty of it, if only because it offers something different from the same vague fantasies and images she’s poached from other skin magazines.
So she withdraws her hand from between her legs and tries to think of something else. She thinks of the lumpy, cold porridge that she’ll be eating for breakfast tomorrow morning, the way it will coat her mouth and leave a wholly unpleasant aftertaste that won’t go away for an hour. She thinks about the training she wants to do tomorrow, the path she wants to run through the snow leek fields and the sword drills that she wants to go through in the afternoon. She thinks about the delightful clattering sound that will fill the mine shaft one day when Crux finally keels over dead and tumbles down the stairs.
She thinks about Harrow’s face covered in intricately crafted paint. She thinks about that paint smeared on the inside of her own thighs, how the stark black and white would swirl together into a gray the color of the sky, how it would feel drying tacky and stiff against her sweaty, slick skin.
She’s down this rabbit hole, whether she likes it or not. She can either try to go to sleep and end up stewing for hours, or she can at least try to get some enjoyment, even if it means she’s not going to be able to look at Harrow without feeling a flush of annoyance (more so than usual) for at least the next week.
Sliding her hand back down to her clit, which is starting to perk up again, she closes her eyes and gives her imagination permission to sprint off into the distance, a permission that it immediately takes advantage of.
If Harrow was going to have sex anywhere, regardless of whether or not it was with Gideon-
(and obviously, if it had to be with anyone, it would be with Gideon, because it’s not like the Ninth House is overflowing with viable paramours)
-it would probably be in the library. There’s no way in hell she’d willingly let another person into her chambers (unless she killed them afterwards, which is not actually outside the realm of possibility), and since she spends so much of her time in there anyways, it would certainly be the most convenient space.
(By that logic, the chapel is another possibility but, while Gideon is willing to let her imagination go a bit wild, that is not a road she’s willing to go down, ever).
So, the library. Definitely not a sexy place, what with the dust and the mold and the occasional hacking cough as a nun buried in the shelves attempts to clear their entire chest of phlegm at once, but it’s still not the weirdest place Gideon has brought into her fantasies. At the very least, if she was to re-enact the magazine feature with Harrow, they wouldn’t have to worry about the stability of any of the tables in the library - they’ve been reinforced with a thick layer of bone that has been worn smooth by centuries of worshipers and necromancers.
There’s no real point in spending much time on figuring out how such a situation could possible arise, partially because it’s so ludicrously improbable and partially because the only way such a situation could arise is if they turned their drive for fighting each other into fucking each other. Besides, if Gideon puts too much thought into what kind of fight might get them there, she’s bound to get distracted by thinking of clever insults and comebacks to unleash in the future and goddamn it, she is getting herself off tonight.
(Although, maybe they could fight about how Gideon is almost certainly better than Harrow at giving head. Yeah. That is totally a conversation that she could have with Harrowhark Nonagesimus, the fucking Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House.
Whatever. Her fantasy, her damn rules.)
So, instead of dwelling on the how, she turns to the what.
Improbable as the whole fantasy is, she finds that, when she closes her eyes and puts some real thought into it, she can picture being pushed back against a table, the hard edge digging into the small of her back. She can picture looking down and taking Harrow in - taking in her small fingers twisted into the front of Gideon’s tunic, her narrowed eyes, the tilt of her sharp-angled face.
The phantom taste of paint appears on her tongue as she imagines slamming her mouth into Harrow’s, nipping at her thin bottom lip until she drew blood. She’s sure that Harrow would not take that lightly - if she didn’t try to retaliate in kind, she would probably do her damnedest to make sure that Gideon didn’t do it again. Maybe she would even restrain her somehow, summon long skeletal fingers from the bone tabletop to keep Gideon in place.
From there, maybe she would drop to the floor, robes puddling around her thin frame, and glare up at Gideon with blood still trickling from her split lip, turning the stark white paint covering her chin into a rosy pink. Maybe, body shaking with rage and frustration and arousal, she would roughly tear at Gideon’s trousers, lacking anything even remotely resembling grace, and yank them down to her ankles, completely exposing her.
(Which, the thought of her whole ass and bits being out to any doddering devotee that happened to wander by should be mortifying, but Gideon’s pretty sure that such a sight would shock most of them to death, which would be another body for the House to use as they may. Really, she’d be doing the House a favor.)
She doesn’t think that Harrow would be a tease, the kind of person interested in drawing things out or trying different techniques, searching for whatever worked best. Instead, she would dive in, determined to make things work through sheer determination alone, as subtle and gentle as a fist of bone slamming into a stomach.
Gideon can work with that. Any gentleness that she may have once had was stomped out of her a long, long time ago.
As she continues to work her clit, pressing firmly on the hardened bud, she opens her legs wider so that her other hand can join the party. As the fantasy continues to unfold in the theater of her mind, as she thinks about Harrow’s sharp mouth and pointed tongue, about her slender fingers and her smeared paint, Gideon slicks up two of her fingers and slips them inside of herself, meeting with little resistance on the way. It takes a few strokes and some readjustments to find the best angle, but once she’s located it, she doesn’t fuck around. She’s spent far too much of this evening frustrated and deprived - she wants to come and she wants to go to sleep, in that order - so she fucks herself with vigor, working her fingers fast and hard. As she gets closer, her fantasy loses most of its coherency; instead, it dissolves into brief flashes, each of them accompanied with visceral sensation that goes straight to her core.
The unforgiving tightness of skeletal fingers wrapped around her wrists, their unrelenting firmness a testament to Harrow’s skill.
The sharp bite of fingertips digging into her thighs, keeping her legs spread apart.
The sloppy, wet drag of Harrow’s tongue against her clit.
When she comes, clenching around her fingers, she makes a half-assed attempt to bury her shout into her pillow. It’s remarkably ineffective, but she doesn’t really give a fuck, partially because she doesn’t think there’s anyone around to hear (anyone alive, at least), but mostly because she’s just elated that, after what feels like a fucking eternity, she’s finally managed to come.
After wiping her fingers on her sheets and tugging her shorts back up, she slumps back against her cot, chest heaving as she tries to catch her breath. Even though her thigh muscles are still twitching with aftershocks, her eyes are already growing leaden and, now that she’s finally accomplished her goal of the night, she doesn’t bother trying to stay awake any longer.
Before she passes out entirely, her brain traitorously and unhelpfully provides her with one last image: Harrow, still on her knees, leaning back and dragging the back of her hand against her glistening, swollen mouth.
“Fuck off,” Gideon mutters into her pillow.
The only thing that comes out of her mouth after that is drool.
When she wakes up in the morning, there’s a small amount of something plaguing her mind, but it’s not embarrassment or guilt or anger. It’s more like annoyance. Annoyance that she allowed herself to spiral down such a road, to actually think about Harrow like that.
To make herself feel better, once everyone else has gone to chapel, she shoves Naughty Nuns of the Ninth underneath her shirt, heads to the library, and slips it into a massive tome with the incredibly boring title of Properties of Phalanges, Metacarpals and Carpals. With that done, she strolls away and spends the rest of the day hanging out with her sword and her biceps.
A week later, while she’s taking a break from doing crunches, Harrow storms into her cell, her fist already encased in a thick gauntlet of bone, and punches Gideon square in the mouth, hard enough to knock her back against the wall, before Gideon can even say what the fuck.
Fishing the magazine out of a fold in her robes, Harrow flicks it at Gideon’s chest, hisses, “Keep your filth out of my library, Nav,” and storms out again, her footsteps echoing for several long seconds. Once they fade away, Gideon gingerly probes her tender lip, finds both swelling and blood, and grins.
Next time, she’s hiding the magazine in the chapel.